Yerry Mina’s Header Eliminates Senegal from the 2018 World Cup

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Senegal exited the 2018 World Cup following a harsh 1-0 defeat to Colombia. In quite an even encounter, Yerry Mina scored his second goal of the tournament which eliminated the African nation. Level on points, goal difference and goals scored, it was FIFA’s “Fair Play” ranking that allowed Japan to qualify instead. Senegal are probably undeserving of this elimination. They won the first game against Poland after a fine showing, drew against Japan where they should have buried more goals and were unable to breach a Colombian defence in the final match. For the South Americans, however, they make the last 16 for the second successive World Cup and will face Group G runner’s up, England.

Senegal were well-organised.

Aliou Cissé organised his Senegalese defensive shape really well once again. Just like the opening clash with Poland, he aimed at stopping the Colombian midfield from having much of the ball. They were compact with their vertical shape, explaining their 4-4-2 formation. The two forwards, Sadio Mané and Mbaye Niang didn’t press the Colombian back four highly, instead focusing on closing down spaces for the two Colombian defensive midfielders, Mateus Uribe and Carlos Sánchez. Senegal maintained their shape flawlessly. As Colombia tried to overcome their midfield struggle, they brought their wide players deeper more often and even that was marked out.

As the two Colombian wingers had to come so deep, they were ineffective. This ruled out the wide threat that Colombia were so good with against Poland. Senegal were smart, instinctive and that was what gave Aliou Cissé’s men such a good chance of qualifying. A key player in the Senegalese midfield was Cheikhou Kouyate. He was the one who linked defense with attack. Supported by Mbaye Niang, who constantly dropped deeper from his attacking role, Senegal were well-linked, well-drilled and were unlucky to not make it through to the next round.

However, their second-half no-show deserted them. They probably thought playing to a goalless draw would be enough, but that plan backfired. Colombia were more resilient and determined in the second-half to get a goal and make their progression certain and that proved to be Senegal’s downfall. After a magnificent tournament, one half of football saw them miss out on history. Now, the tournament ends with no African nations in the second round for the first time since 1982.

Colombia react well

Colombia carried on their form from their previous game – the 3-0 win over Poland. Despite James Rodríguez’s early departure due to injury, they were able to trouble Senegal frequently. Their defence is what seems to be most pleasing. Yerry Mina came to the World Cup on the back of an underwhelming season with Barcelona, but after a slow start against Senegal, he grew into the game, adding a goal to his astute performance. Dávinson Sánchez, meanwhile, has been one of the best defenders in the tournament, and he was rock-solid against Senegal once again. The two have formed a formidable pairing at the back.

The form of Juan Quintero has also been encouraging. He has been involved in goals in all the games Colombia have played this summer and added an assist today. Initially deputising for Rodríguez in the first game, he has now grown in his continued absence. Against Senegal, he operated smartly from the wing, overcoming the rigid Senegalese setup quite frequently. His set-piece delivery has been exquisite and that fact that he has someone as strong as Yerry Mina aids his skills well.

Another key performer was the left-back, Johan Mojica. He had the tough task of stopping the exotic Ismaïla Sarr, who had a decent game. The defender linked up well with Quintero down the left side, and with England to come next, he can expect to find more spaces to exploit in England’s 3-5-2 formation, taking advantage of the room given to him by Kieran Trippier’s attacking intent. Quick, smart and adaptive, the 25-year-old has had an impressive tournament and has been one of the left-backs around.

Fair play rule: is it actually fair?

It seems really harsh on Senegal to go out on their Fair Play record. The rule needs mending, and it cannot be verified whether some of the cards they received or Japan received were entirely bookable offences or not. Perhaps there was an error in judgment from the referee or an unfair call. The fact that they weren’t even amongst the top 10 least disciplined nations makes it a baffling rule. There needs to be a more viable tiebreaker – one that puts footballing talent and not mere numbers to the fore.

As the tournament progresses, this rule will not be used further. For Senegal, it’s a flight back home, but Colombia come up against an improving England side. The clash will determine if they make it to the quarter-finals for a second successive World Cup finals for the first time in their history – a fitting reward for coach José Pékerman’s great work which will undoubtedly see him become the country’s best ever football manager.

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